Coffman here. When I saved this post, the internet cafe here censored out all my swearing. This will explain the multiple blanks that appear in the following, which you will have to creatively fill in like a Mangolandia-themed game of Mad Libs. Best of luck to you, dirty-minded children of Wherever.
For those of you who haven't yet figured it out, this whole Mangolandia blog is about trying to convey the nigh-on inexpressible whatness of the Indian Is. I arrived on June 3rd, and since that time, I've noticed that Ank has certainly focused on the positive here in this blog. With good reason, to be sure--how the hell could a country called Mangolandia possibly dish out pain and suffering? Isn't the mango the symbol of all that's right with manifestation?
Though I did eat a mango in my first few days here that had cruelly concealed a pocket of writhing pulsing little white worms by appearing to be tasty, delicious and creamy. Damn near almost vomited that time...
...but since arriving here, I have to say, Mangolandia has presented a fair number of challenges. Some of these I deserve, and I won't go into those here. But my satchel of travel tales includes a very recent story that in so many ways exemplifies everything that's real, and also most that's right, with Mangolandia. So, without further ado, and only because Ank tells me to post things on this blog upwards of twenty times a day, the story of my recent travels from Kerala to Maharashtra:
The decision to leave came easily, somehow. Ank and I were enjoying a ubiquitous dosa, and after all the difficulties that had arisen for the Mangolandia crew over the past few weeks, what with the Chandrabose studio living situation being a little, ahem, SUPER ING INTENSE, and with India in general being pretty damn stressful, etc. etc., we suddenly made eye contact and both knew that I had to go. Ank has a whole set of theories, mostly well-tested, about India. One of his primary theories runs:
India only truly reveals itself in all its trippy One Love wonder when you're traveling alone.
I'd spent 24 hours traveling alone a few days before, and lo, it was indeed a trippy time. In just that 24 hour stretch, I:
Traveled to a remote elephant-infested location called Thirunelli.
Found the friend of Ank's I'd pilgrimaged there to meet very much Not At Home.
Practiced right-hand guitar exercises all afternoon sitting on the veranda of the Not At Home dude's fancy housesit looking out over a valley at a beautiful river and mountains just, like, Right There.
Ended up having this random local tribal guy who spoke three words of English to my one word of Malayalam come and decide to take care of me.
Sat in the bamboo tree fort he'd built, which overlooks the river quite literally, and frighteningly.
Ate dinner on the banks of said river, forcing down six onion frycake thingies and two plastic bagfuls of unnamed yellow curry and eight chappatis.
Watched tribal dude toss the collected plastic bag refuse of our dinner straight into the river and smile.
Met his family, his tribe, his tribe's tribe, some other people, etc.
Was force-fed a second dinner, more rice meal style with large piles of rice and a random other curry.
Slept shivering on the same formerly beautiful veranda from earlier, curled next to tribal unwanted caretaker dude who laid the thin bamboo mat out at the thinnest point of the veranda for some reason and then took the only blanket for himself, leaving me wearing all the clothes I'd brought and using my two trusty longees as blankets, when the damn things are thin for a quick-drying reason.
Woke up to find the Not At Home dude very much still not at home, despite everyone's contention that he was going to have been back the day before at 3pm, 5pm, 7.30pm and then 10pm.
Decided to bolt before I got paraded befor the tribe again for the breakfast hour, and was therefore escorted by (non)caretaker dude through the most spectacular jungle path I've ever walked, which literally in points looked as if it was some long-lost front from World War One. We marched through an overgrown former trench and came out near a beautiful mountain temple that I wasn't supposed to go near because I'm, alas, very much not Hindu.
So that was my former single day of solo trippy Mangolandia travel. Perhaps Ank has a point. I was resistant at first, even after that particular bout of travel.
But then, the decision to go.
So I checked myself into a tourist lodge in Bathery, the closest earsplitting Indian town to the Chandrabose studio where Ank and Neilu were living. The next morning, i woke up early and hit the road guitar in hand. I hopped on a bus headed to Kozhikode, which the English thankfully named Calicut so I'd have a shot at being understood.
I got to Calicut and jumped in a rickshaw bound for the train terminal. I paid twice as much as I should and noted as much.
Then I waited for the train. No, I'm not a German. I'm Amerikan. Yes. It's a guitar. I paid one dollar for it. That's forty-five rupees. Okay. Bye. No, I'm not a German. I'm an Amerikan. Well, maybe I am a German. My name's Mateo. No, it's not Matthew. I mean, yes it is actually Matthew, but God I Matthew, only my family calls me that, it's Mateo. Ma-Tay-Oh. Matthew. Right.
So the train came, and I got on the train, so many hours later. The Indians had taken all the seats and all the floorspace in the actual train part of the train, so I stood next to the latrines with the comatose woman in the really pretty red sari an the crippled dude who sat on a makeshift wooden square with wheels and shouted randomly in Malayalam before, after and during large well-hocked loogies. A moustachioed man stood actually between the two latrine doors, while I stood between the actual train doors, the woman and wheeled platform guy to my left when I faced back, toward the latrines and the moustachioed dude.
Ahem. Those of you still reading this--do you get how the entire project of this blog is ridiculous and impossible? Do you have any ideas how many details I'm leaving out, already? Ferchrissakes, my fingers are falling off from trying to convey a zillionth of the story, and I haven't even gotten to the Actual Parts, yet.
So anyway, the point of this stretch of the story is that the dude I was standing next to was Christian and also named Matthew. Even though I'm...named...Mateo. My family's...forget it. He asked me if I was Christian, I tried to discuss the difference between the fundamentalist dunderheaded mainstream Southern Baptist Christians I was surrounded by growing up and how I'm NOT one of those, but yeah, I guess I am Christian if you're talking about the radical anti-Imperial space-time bending tripper Jesus who actually appears in the gospels, not to mention in the gnostic gospels, the apocryphal gospels, the sea scrolls and Philip K. Dick's exegesis and VALIS trilogy.
So the train took way longer than it should've to get to Mangalore, an actual city name in Mangolandia I you not, and I made my way from the train to an overnight bus to Goa, because, you know, Goa is Goa.
The bus ride to Goa, thankfully, involved no detail whatsoever.
Arrival in Goa. I get on a random bus to a random beach in Goa and find the entire place shuttered due to the Monsoon. Which then makes itself present as an actual Monsoon, and I'm sitting huddled next to a beachside hut as the rain comes pouring down, wondering what the hell I'm even doing out on the road when I came here to India to see and spend time with one Ankur Shah. I was, at this point, pretty ed off. Like, on a scale of one to ten, maybe a six, which is really quite high for me, even when I'm not meditating regularly.
But so Goa came and Goa went, I made it to Mapusa, a Bathery-sized town in Goa but actually prounounceable, and I slept. The bellhop who escorted me to my hotel room bore a tatoo of a gothic cross on his right hand next to the thumb. Just to note a recurring Christian theme...
The next morning, I got up and asked people how to get to Maharashtra. The next bus to Pune, the only city besides Mumbai that I knew existed in Maharashtra, left in ten minutes, three hours, seven hours, late that night, and the next morning really early. I therefore got on the first bus that anyone admitted would actually go to Maharashtra, and one hour later I was the only white person to have ever hopped off a bus in this first and totally out of the way city in Maharashtra that no one had ever heard of other than those few folks who were actually there, in the most vintage Indian bus station I will ever see for the rest of my days.
From this bus station, the next bus to Pune left at 5pm, 11pm, tomorrow morning at5.30am, and ten minutes from now. And wouldn't you know it, a green bus pulled up and I jumped onto it and yes, it did indeed go straight to Pune, and it would get me there about ten hours later. So I paid the bus ticket dude, who handed me eight or nine flimsy Indian bus tickets, and sat in my seat with my guitar and backpack stored in the overhead luggage rack. To my right was the Largest Indian Man I Have Ever Seen, I swear to God he was a freak of nature and could easily pass for an NBA player or otherwise freakishly large human being.
And good god, this bus took its time getting to Pune.
But we made it there, and in Pune I found a single hotel in the bus station's area that still admitted to having free rooms at 11pm on a Saturday night. A kindly restaurant worker saw me wandering off into an apparently unsafe part of town and escorted me first to one, then to another hotel until we finally ended up at this one, at which I paid, not ting you here either, 1026 rupees for the right to sleep for six hours. Oh, India, you can be so very cruel.
But so I watched the World Cup instead, because I was several infinities away from Ank and Kerala and my anger had by this point rised to somewhere in the mid- to high 8 range.
India is this massive country teeming with people in every lado. It's unbelievable. Everywhere I'd been, I'd been surrounded by staring Indians, all of whom I was taller than except for my busmate, who I noticed debussed thirty minutes or so before our bus reached Pune that night.
I hadn't come to India to have Ank's India theories imposed on me, but there I was, traveling without a clue in Pune, India, a city by all accounts just as bad as Mumbai but lesser known. People and pollution everywhere, noise threatening to cave in your skull, the sweet stink of cowshit rivaled only by the stagnant pools of monsoon unleashings.
And the next morning, I caught a bus to Nasik.
Vintage rickshaw story. The hotel guy had told me that I should go to the Shivajaga Bus Stand, where I could catch a more direct bus to Nasik, the town I had decided to head towards only because I knew it was relatively close to the International Headquarters of the Dhamma organization, which teaches vipassana meditation for free to the masses, and where I hoped to take my second 10-day vipassana course in ten days' time. The hotel gent told me that a rickshaw to the bus stand should run 45 rupees.
So I roll out of the hotel with my guitarcase in hand and approached three rickshaws that were standing waiting to ligten my wallet's heavy burden. Can you take me to this random bus stand? Sure. Okay. I jump into your rickshaw. You seem like a fairly nice fellow. How much to get there?
Now, I understand that there are many vectors involved in this whole globalization thing, and the reality of 120 rupees shifts depending on where you earned your translatable condensed energy units. 120 rupees is less than three American dollars. But is it the principle? That by this point, I was three days into a journey that I didn't want to go on farther and farther from Ank, heartbroken, superangry, and I bore the ego blows of having been fleeced over ten or twenty times by all manner of rickshaw driver, mango salesman and roadside dude trying to get me to buy his no-doubt high-grade .
So I began getting the hell out of the rickshaw, informing him that I knew the fare was only 45.
"Petrol costs more now, Sir!! It is indeed 120 rupees."
His two friends, however, saw a 45-rupee fare and undermined him. One of them quickly hustledme into his rickshaw, going so far as to say that he'd take me to the bus stand for a mere 25 rupees, and off we went, the other red-faced rickshaw driver still putting up his charade of righteousness.
The fare, in the end, was indeed 45 rupees.
A solid Mangolandia lesson experienced by yours truly:
Some of you who know me know that I have, at times, degenerated into an unfortunate spitting habit that I picked up during my days playing little league baseball as an 8-year-old. Which is to say that I've been spitting loogs and launching snot rockets for a damn long time, and I'm quite accomplished at the entire gamut of activities that fall under the umbrella term 'expectoration.'
But as I sat on the bus to Nashik, which of course was scheduled to leave at 7.30am but actually left closer to 9am, I witnessed an awe-inspiring display of loog hocking and spittle launching by the combined forces of my fellow bus passengers that finally, completely rid me of my spitting habit. I mean, ferchrissakes, you can't just ing spit massive gobs of curry-tinged mucous out of yer goddamned bus window with impunity!?!?! Not a trashcan in the entire country, and their spitting these massive, Olympic-sized wads of mouth goo in long parabolic arcs that actually cause blast craters upon impact with our earth mother.
Anyway, the bus got underway, and I swear to God, not three hours later we were stalled by the side of the road with an angry motorcyclist screaming at the head of the bus wanting to know who the hell had just hocked a massive loogie straight into his face. His sunglasses still bore the mark of the offending spitwad, and people, hear me tell you now, This, too, Was Mangolandia.
But so we made it to Nasik, and after a mid-monsoon 250 rupee (this is only about seven or eight times more than I should have paid) rickshaw ride (wtih yet another Christian Indian in the middle of Hindu India who kept holding up his crucifix keychain complete with actual pewter crucified Jesus to indicate that we were playing on the same God Team since I had said, yes, I am Christian) from one train reservation center to another 10 kilometers away, I bought a train ticket to head right the heck back in the direction of Kerala, because by now I'd had four days of aimless rewardless wandering under my belt, and I was as angry as I'd ever been. I don't really know at whom, because I certainly didn't blame Ank for his blindness to the differences between traveling in India as a trippy Gandhi-emulating wanderer vs. being the tall lanky white tourist target who forgot his Lonely Planet at home. But I was angry, and I had to keep moving or I might explode. Besides, upon arriving in Nashik, I quickly realized that once again, I had managed to arrive in a location in India that had quite possibly not seen a non-Indian since the fall and removal of the British Raj.
And somehow, I missed the train.
So I started looking for a hotel. I was looking for the Hotel Sahara, but I ended up at the Hotel Sangrilla, spelled like it looks but intended like Shangrila. A cluster of shops with a cluster of men off to the right actually included a guy who spoke excellent English, and we struck up a fateful conversation that would lead into the rest of this tale.
But for now, I think I should leave off. I suffer from the distinct feeling that I am a voice in the darkness speaking just to hear myself speak, with no one in a thousand miles to hear my lilting witticisms. If you read this far, I probably owe you an overpriced rickshaw fare...
Love, for now,